Newly Discovered Tatooine Planet Is The Largest So Far

Tuesday, 14 June 2016 - 11:14AM
Astronomy
Science of Sci-Fi
Tuesday, 14 June 2016 - 11:14AM
Newly Discovered Tatooine Planet Is The Largest So Far
Dubbed a "Tatooine planet" because, like its Star Wars counterpart, it orbits two suns, Kepler-1647b is a recently discovered planet in the constellation Cygnus. This isn't the first circumbinary exoplanet, but it's the largest found to date.

Dr. Veslin Kostov and his team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center noticed Kepler-1647b's back in 2011, but further data testing and accumulation was needed to confirm that its irregular transit pattern, caused by the two stars or "suns" it orbits, was actually an exoplanet transit.

Opening quote
"Finding circumbinary planets is much harder than finding planets around single stars," SDSU professor and research team member William Welsh said in a statement. "The transits are not regularly spaced in time and they can vary in duration and even depth."
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But Kepler-1647b isn't just special because it's a circumbinary planet, as both its size and its orbit are noteworthy. With the help of astronomers from the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (yes, that's its actual scientific name), a robotic telescope in South Africa, Kostov and his team estimated the mass of the exoplanet as roughly the size of Jupiter. In addition, Kepler-1647b's orbital period was found to be 1,107 days, which translates to a little over 3 years. All of the other previously discovered Tatooine planets are Saturn-sized at best, with closer orbits to their binary stars.

Opening quote
"It's a bit curious that this biggest planet took so long to confirm, since it is easier to find big planets than small ones," said SDSU astronomer and fellow research team member Jerome Orosz. "It took so long to confirm because its orbital period is so long."
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At roughly the same age as Earth, approximately 4.4 billion years old, and at 3,700 light years away, Kepler-1647b is also intriguing because it lies in its host stars' habitable zone. Unfortunately, because of its similarities to the barren Jupiter, it too is uninhabitable, but there is a strong possibility of life forming on its moons - we'll just have to wait and see.
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